The mainstream media may not be interested in properly covering the death of an influential animation artist, but the ‘net (i.e. regular people around the world) is abuzz with reaction to Joe Ranft’s passing. Searches for Joe Ranft are currently ranked #3 on Technorati, the website that tracks activity across 15 million blogs. The only other searches more popular in the blogging world right now are for Cindy Sheehan and Jude Law, while Joe Ranft beats out searches for worldly topics like Iraq, Gaza and Music. To see what everybody is saying about Joe, do THIS SEARCH on Technorati.
UPDATE (3:55pm): Ronnie Del Carmen has details of where to send donations and cards. Click HERE.
UPDATE (9:34am): Hold off on donations to Mosaic for the moment. Jan Otters provides an update of how they’re going to deal with donations: “Actually there is a memorial fund being set up at Pixar in honor of Joe. The Ranft family will divide the donations amongst Joe’s favorite charities (including Mosaic).”
I’m sure there’s a lot of people wondering what causes they can donate to in honor of Ranft’s passing. Now there’s an answer. Allison Brown at Wild Brain writes, “We have heard that in lieu of flowers and fruit baskets, etc. the Ranft family is asking that donations be sent to the Mosaic organization, which is the men’s group Joe was with when they had the accident.”
Here is the website for Mosaic Voices. They have an on-line donation form, which can be found by clicking on the “Contact” section.
Some really beautiful sentiments can be found on-line regarding Joe Ranft (1960-2005). Here’s a handful that stood out to me. The complete entries can be read by clicking on the writer’s names.
“My personal memories are of things like Joe and John [Lasseter] doing James Brown riffs as “Toy Story” charactersâ€¦Joe performing an entire lunch as Billy Bob Thornton’s gravel-voiced character from “Sling Blade” (“Some people call it a crescent rollâ€¦I call it a sling rollâ€¦”) Entertaining people came as naturally to Joe as swimming does to a dolphin. He didn’t do it to become a star at Sea World, he did it because it’s who he was. He would casually pull a deck of cards out of his pocket and show you some close-up magic, do voices, draw caricatures, tell a story, and it all wove in and out of the most easygoing and kindhearted and unforced conversations. Kindhearted. That was Joe. Maybe the sweetest soul I’ve ever known. I don’t think I ever heard Joe Ranft say an unkind word about anyone. He felt and experienced life with a kind of boundless gratitude for who he was, and the people with whom he surrounded himself. It was like he woke up every day genuinely surprised at his good fortune.” – Mike Bonifer (it’s well worth reading the whole entry on this one)
“I wanted to BE Joe Ranft … envying a man’s life who I never met. Plus, I could tell in his writings that he was a warm man, full of good humor. A man I would hope to someday shake hands with and … dare I dream … get to work with. …It saddens me greatly that I will never have the opportunity to thank the man who has meant so much to me in terms of inspiration and direction.” – Barry Smith
“A moment of silence. For Joe Ranft, yet another of the most brilliant, most professional, and most gracious people I had the incredible good fortune of knowing, however briefly, at Pixar. He was an amazingly kind man, and a generous mentor who packed every borrowed hour with years’ worth of lessons. It seems like there should be earthquakes, given the Joe-sized hole in the world; even mentioning my own grief seems kind of selfish. Maybe I should just watch A Bug’s Life again.” – Jessica Donohoe
“I cannot imagine the grief his family and friends must be feeling. I feel absolute shock and numbness, it reminds me of the way I felt after September 11th.” – Bloomsday
“And I feel some small sense of loss myself, just from seeing Ranft’s name so prominently in the credits of all of the Pixar movies. It’s always amazing to me just how much the passing of someone whom I don’t know at all can touch me just from the quality of his work. And for all of the technical skill and visual wizardry the crew at Pixar possess, it’s the stories and characters in each of their movies that make me love these movies as much as I do, and the high quality of those stories can be credited at least partially to Joe Ranft.” – J. Allen Holt
Scrappy – America’s favorite forgotten cartoon star – was created in 1931 by Fleischer expatriate Dick Huemer for the Charles Mintz studio, as Columbia Pictures answer to Mickey Mouse (which was strange because Columbia was releasing Disney’s cartoons at this time).Harry McCracken has just recently expanded his spectacular homage website, SCRAPPYLAND, with twice as much content. If you haven’t visited lately, you’ll now find more Scrappy promotional items, Mintz studio photos, more photos of Columbia child stars with Scrappy products, Scrappy theatrical posters, updates to existing areas, a complete Scrappy fan magazine from the 1930s and last, but definitely not least, a report on the ASIFA-Hollywood’s Scrappyland event I hosted back in April.
A couple more brief notes about the untimely passing of story artist Joe Ranft. This article from the MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL explains what Ranft was doing with the other people in the car:
Ranft was en route to a Mendocino retreat Tuesday with two men from the Watts area of Los Angeles. The program, called Mosaic, pairs successful businessmen with men who are trying to straighten out their lives, said neighbor and friend Pat Ravasio. …”These retreats were very spiritual,” said Ravasio, who knew Ranft for 10 years. “These were disadvantaged men he was hoping to help and inspire.”
To read a constantly updated stream of what the blogging community is saying about Ranft, do THIS SEARCH on Technorati. Many of the people compelled to comment are simply fans of animation and Pixar who have never met Ranft, and others have only met him in passing. Here is one Alvin Cerrado Cruzado of Canada: “I, for one, felt a certain grief when I heard of his death. I never knew him personally, nor met him even. But he was responsible for most of the films that inspired me to be in animation. For that, I think I owe him a great deal.” And another thought from Casira: “I’m just a fan, of course, and didn’t know him, but after years of watching their movies, giggling over those exuberantly-goofy DVDs, and always appreciating the work of Pixar’s story team so, so much, and then reading all these messages from people who universally confirm he was one of the best guys you could ever hope to meet, about all I can think is that we just can’t afford to lose people like him.”
I’m still in shock over the news of Joe Ranft’s death.Steve Segal introduced me to Joe sometime around 1986 or 87. I recall walking around Melrose Avenue with them talking about cartoons. Steve was working with Joe on THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER at the time (photo at right is from that production). I’ve met up with Joe numerous times since then. He was a fan of Jim Tyer’s animation and I supplied him with numerous Terrytoons for inspirational purposes. Several years ago, when I was working on an ill-fated revival of Heckle & Jeckle for MTV (the project ultimately died in development hell), Joe recommended a great writer whom I ended up collaborating with.What a great guy. I saw him last on July 15th, in Hall H, at the San Diego Comic Con. I joked with him backstage and interviewed him in front of a crowd of 6000. He really was one of the greats of our generation. Rest in peace, my friend.
This is really sad news. Joe Ranft, a major part of Pixar’s creative team, died in an auto accident yesterday, according to this post on Animation Nation. Ranft was one of the heads of story on both TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2, as well as the voice of Heimlich the Caterpillar in A BUG’S LIFE. He had also worked on story for THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LION KING, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, among other films. More details to come…
Update (1:20am): An obit from Joe Ranft’s hometown newspaper, the WHITTIER DAILY NEWS.
Update (4:45pm): Pixar story artist Ronnie del Carmen writes in his BLOG:
People cannot say much but just gave each other embraces to quell the sadness. Eventually we all met at the atrium. It is the saddest day at Pixar. The population at work had never been this silent except for the sound of grief. Ed Catmull, visibly shaken walked out to deliver the sad news. John Lasseter stood beside him but could not speak…Joe is the very best story man ever and the best human being I’ve known in animation. He is mentor, friend and inspiration to all of us who do this job. The last meeting I had with Joe was a Story Lead meeting where we share the collective known knowlege of those of us who’ve done Head of story jobs. Great stories of how to and why. And we earmark things we want to improve. As always with Joe it was about accentuating the positive and finding what works with people. I will miss him.
Update (3:54pm): Here is the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER obit with scary details of how the auto accident happened. Ranft was a passenger in the car. The car’s driver, Elegba Earl, was also killed, while another passenger, Eric Frierson, survived the accident.
Update (2:32pm): Here’s a nice SALON article/interview with Joe Ranft that offers some insight into his personal background and his approach to storytelling, as well as explains how he became involved with voice acting at Pixar.
Update (1:32pm): Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa writes in his journal:
Joe Ranft, the heart of Pixar, was killed yesterday in a car accident. We are all hit hard by this sudden news and we’re all beyond sadness here at the studio. Joe’s contribution to Animation has been immense and far reaching. He taught and mentored a whole generation of creators, I can’t even begin to describe how dearly he will be missed. His spirit and legacy will live on through the hundreds of stories that are being told and will be told by all the artists and directors he mentored and inspired. A prayer from all our community goes to his family.
Update (1:00pm): ASIFA-San Francisco president Karl Cohen emailed me with the following:
Bill Plympton called me and said Joe was one of the nicest guys in the world and that he had helped Bill a great deal with his career. Bill was quite upset by this tragic event as I’m sure all of us who knew him are. I first met Joe when he worked for Selick on Nightmare. Bill Plympton took me there to meet him and the 3 of us had a lovely lunch together. I knew him as a warm, friendly nice guy who didn’t let his success fill him up with self-importance. He had already worked for Disney and I believe I saw him on TV win an Oscar for his work at Pixar, but the few times I saw him over the years he was just Joe.
Update (12:41pm): A remembrance by ‘Sputnik’ on Animation Nation:
I was already working for Disney features when this new guy showed up one day from CALARTS. He was big, funny and had the most joy and life in him that I have seen in anybody before or since. We all knew a giant was among us. A giant heart, a giant talent, a giant smile-maker. Darrell Van Citters was the first to spot his storytelling and entertainment talent and put him on Roger Rabbit as a story artist. He and Tim Burton hit it off immediately too. We used to play volleyball at break and Tim would act like he had a remote control in his mad scientist hand and shout orders to TOR—the Plan Nine actor. Joe was a lovable zombie. Tim cast Joe in his live action short called “Luau” as I.Q–the big doof in the gang. Joe got laughs and had real screen sincerity. No wonder he made a fantastic voice actor later. Joe was always sought after by every top director at the studio–including John Lasseter. Nobody appreciated or loved Joe more than John. My heart goes out to him today and for nothing to do with animation. That is a seperate loss. This is the loss of the best friend a guy could ever have. A gentle soul with a heart of gold who magically knew how to make us interested in any stories he wanted to tell us. And after the story was told—we had met new animated friends that would be with us for our entire lives. And so will Joe.
Update (12:21pm): A report on this blog by Tara about the scene at Pixar:
Yesterday the main story guy at Pixar, Joe Ranft, passed away in a car accident near Mendocino. He’d been at the studio since ’92, and been a lead person on just about every movie made here, so _everybody_ knew him. They called a company meeting at 10am, but the news was already known by then. I walked into the Atrium to over 700 people standing silently, looking at Ed Catmull and John Lasseter try to speak through their grief. … I’d never seen an entire company come screeching to a halt the way it did today. It was sobering, though also sort of beautiful. I’m sure Joe would have been pleased to know how loved he was.
Update (12:08pm): Animation legend Floyd Norman remembers Joe Ranft:
Joe was the finest of the new generation of animation story tellers. I was lucky enough to work with Joe at both Disney and Pixar, and he always amazed me with his ability to tell a story. What a terrible loss for all of us who love animation. Boy, I’m going to miss him.
I’ve had a few people email me this morning asking me to check out this Tom Oreb artwork from Ward Kimball’s DISNEYLAND space episode MARS AND BEYOND. Cool as the artwork may be, it is definitely NOT Tom Oreb. I posted a correction on the Cartoon Retro forum yesterday evening, but judging from the emails I’m receiving, the misinformation is still spreading like wildfire. It’s actually a fairly common misconception about Oreb, and I made it a point to write in my forthcoming book on 1950s animation design that Oreb was never involved in the space specials. During the time of the space specials, Oreb was working in Disney’s TV commercial unit and also at John Sutherland Productions. The most obvious evidence that he didn’t work on them can be found simply by looking at the films. The designs are too cartoony to be Oreb designs and lack the powerful graphic quality that is ever-present in his work. The main designer of the cartoon sequence in MARS AND BEYOND was another forgotten genius, John Dunn. Dunn wasn’t so much a full-time designer as he was an incredibly funny storyman with an inherent talent for design. Ward Kimball once told me about Dunn: “You would ask him to do a page full of crazy looking dogs and it was very hard to pick the craziest.” I’m currently working on a piece about John Dunn that will be published in ANIMATION BLAST #9. As for the painter of these MARS AND BEYOND color keys, it’s unclear who the painter is — it could be Kimball, Dunn, one of the animators who could paint like Art Stevens, or somebody else — but one person we can rule out is Tom Oreb.
Next week Nicktoons premieres its second Annual film festival, Nextoons, each night August 21-28, Midnight (ET)/9:00 p.m. (PT). Created in partnership with Frederator Studios, Nextoons showcases the diversity of independent cartoon filmmaking by animators from around the globe.Nextoons consists of seven half-hour specials which will premiere everynight the week of August 21st. The final episode, on Sunday, August 28, will count down the top ten shorts and will reveal the grand-prize winner at the end of the episode. The following shorts are finalists featured in the first episode:La RÃ¨volution des Crabes – Arthur de Pins
Hobbies – Model Bus Collector – Nick Mackie
Runaway Bathtub – Annie Poon
Unmarked – Justin Foo
Those Scurvy Rascals – Blue-Zoo Productions
Her Teddy Bear – Ji Eun Lee
Blue Dress – Chungmin MoonFred Seibert, Rita Street and Eric Homan are the Festival Directors, and Christina Vann of Nicktoons is Executive in Charge of Production. The panel of Grand Jurors for the Nicktoons Film Festival responsible for selecting the $10,000 Grand Prize winner includes: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker); Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (co-creators of Nickelodeon’s hit show Avatar), Mike Gabriel (Disneys’ Lorenzo), Elizabeth Ito (last year’s Nextoons winner) and ten-year-old Noah Webb, a cartoon connoisseur.
It’s bad enough that Disney veteran animation directors John Musker and Ron Clements (THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, HERCULES, TREASURE PLANET) said goodbye to the magic kingdom last Friday, after 31 years. Now the financial advice website MOTLEY FOOL has posted this negative overview of Disney’s current animation prospects.Personally, I’m looking forward to CHICKEN LITTLE, and the other forthcoming in-house projects, with great enthusiasm.
Donnachada Daly, a directing animator on MADAGASCAR, has started his own blog HERE. He writes on the site: “Almost every day I’ll try and post up a doodle for no other reason than I just love drawing. Nothing quite like putting pencil to paper and getting that tactile touch. Expect to see a mixture of traditional and digital drawing.” I’ve been enjoying the work he’s been posting so far: the drawings are spare in detail, but have an animator’s touch with plenty of vitality and a search for elegant combinations of shapes.
Here’s some random art from 1950s cartoons which appeal to me for different reasons. To start things off, below are four details from UPA background paintings. The complete BGs will be printed in my upcoming book on 50s animation design (pre-order at Amazon). From top to bottom, the paintings are by Paul Julian, Jules Engel, Bob McIntosh and Herb Klynn. I was prepping these particular paintings for print this weekend, and was marveling at how utterly great all of them are. The paintings really drive home the point that there was no house style at UPA. Artists at the studio were free to paint in whatever style they desired, and when that luxury is allowed to artists of this caliber, you’re bound to end up with some gorgeous stuff. Bonus points to anybody who can identify which films these paintings are from.
A lot of people create ‘stylized’ art to hide weaknesses in their drawing skills, but the best designers are invariably excellent draftsmen as well. These two concept drawings for SLEEPING BEAUTY are the real deal and leave no doubt about Tom Oreb’s drawing skills. It’s all there: an understanding of drapery, anatomy, perspective, and an uncanny ability to create appealing designy shapes while maintaining solidity of form.
Here’s a few model sheet drawings of the sun character created by UPA for the Bell Science special OUR MR. SUN (1953). The entire model sheet, which has a lot more of these sun-heads, will be included in the book. It’s a very decorative approach to character design, but it’s also an interesting design solution that makes a character who is a basic circle look interesting and unique. I haven’t been able to solidly identify who created the model sheet though I’ve narrowed it down to director Bill Hurtz or designer Lew Keller (I’m leaning towards the latter artist because of the drawing style). If anybody knows for sure, please drop me a line.
CARTOON: THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ANIMATION is currently accepting pitches for its next issue, which will be published in December. The magazine is the revamped version of the ASIFA-NEWS magazine and is edited by the Ottawa Animation Festival’s Chris Robinson. Chris writes about what he’s looking for:
As usual, we’re open to articles about ANY aspect of the animation world from TV animation to hardcore abstract films. We want pieces about animators, characters, techniques, schools, business. Whatever ya got. And it doesn’t have to be words, if you’ve got a cartoon idea, a strip, I’ll consider anything.
The deadline for pitches is soon, so best to send them off within the week. Chris asks that article pitches be no more than a few sentences. The magazine pays for articles. Send pitches and questions to robinson (at) magma (dot) ca.
What do Tim Biskup, Shag, Miles Thompson, Robert Williams, Frank Kozik, Coop and Leonard Nimoy have in common? They’ve all had exhibits at the Copro/Nason art gallery in Santa Monica. The latest installation, SPLAT! opens this Saturday August 20th featuring the highly entertaining cartoon artwork of Anthony Ausgang and Krk Ryden. Both artists have an obvious subversive 1940s cartoon edge in their work – thus they are two of my current favorites. An artists reception on Saturday night is open to all from 8:30pm to 11:30pm.
Something about the character designs for Tim Burton’s upcoming stop motion film THE CORPSE BRIDE have annoyed me since I first saw them. The extreme deep-set eyes, flat cheeks and awkward definition of the mouth area look, well, rather wrong, for lack of a better word. The main characters look Burton-esque, but they lack the distinctive graphic shapes and raw charm of the designs Burton created for THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Yesterday, the NEW YORK TIMES explained why CORPSE BRIDE looks the way it does when they published a profile on the film’s character’s designer, Carlos Grangel. Burton apparently did rough character concepts for the film, but then handed off final design duties to Grangel, who is a regular character designer at DreamWorks, and has designed on films like THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, THE ROAD TO EL DORADO and SPIRIT. After realizing this connection, it becomes pretty hard to miss the design similarities between CORPSE BRIDE and late-90s hand-drawn DreamWorks cartoons. And believe me, that’s a connection I hoped I’d never have to make for a Tim Burton film.